The Viper sets out to be an anachronism. It is modern technology applied to an old fashioned concept of enjoyable open motoring; raw fun on four wheels. There are other cars with some of the same retro appeal, like the TVR Griffith, but the Dodge Viper has more in common with a 1965 Shelby Cobra than with Blackpool’s best. What sets it apart from this decade is the big, lazy engine, an 8 liter V-10 and the studied lack of creature comforts; you didn’t expect a quiet ride in a Cobra, or a snug fitting roof, but you did expect raucous high performance in any gear, just like the Viper. Against the Cobra it is 7 inches wider and 5 inches lower, a Cobra with a modern stance.

The common denominator is indeed Carroll Shelby, Shelby who put Ford V-8s into AC’s very British sports car and won a World Championship, the same Shelby who then worked over Chrysler saloons to transform their performance. And Shelby has been in the background of the Viper development. But the concept was Chrysler’s spurred on by President Bob Lutz, and arch enthusiast for the sheer fun of driving anything that challenges the driver.

The Viper was first shown as an eye catcher on the Dodge stand at the 1990 Detroit Motor Show a fully engineered eye catcher that was there to gauge public reaction to retro styling in general and the Viper in particular. Both way it was well received and, two years later, it reappeared ready for production which can reach up to 5000 units a year should demand be there.

Its chassis is built up in sheet steel, stiffened by large box section in the sills and central tunnel, and substantial bulk heads each side of the cockpit. All independent suspension uses double wishbones at each corner, and the steering is power assisted; it need to be with that big engine weight coupled with massive tyres, the front wheels are ten inches wide and the rears thirteen. The grip that the tyres generate is prodigious.

The front mounted engine started life as a cast iron truck unit, but has been re-engineered with aluminium block and heads by Lamborghini, who were owned by Chrysler at the time. The 7990 cc V-10 now develops 406 bhp, the level of specific output that was normal in a ‘fifties’ saloon, so it should last. Mated to it is a six speed Borg Warner gearbox with an axle ratio giving such high gearing that it only needs 1400 rpm to cruise at 70 mph in sixth. The most sophisticated part of the car is the engine/ transmission management system which controls the fuel injection and also inserts a detent to prevent selection of second and third gears when accelerating gently, thereby saving fuel emission testing.

The body is ‘sixties curvaceous but made from a modern acrylic plastic. The overall style follows the rounded sports car themes of Mazda MX-5 and Suzuki Cappuccino, but the squat proportions and the sheer size make it a very impressive beast. And its potential performance is a match for its ancestor; the 7 liter Cobra, too, would achieve over 160 mph given the right gearing and reach 100 mph in around 10 seconds.

But the Viper’s charm is the ability to accelerate so quickly in any gear; accompanied by an explosive roar you can blast past anything in whatever gear you happen to be. It is an exhilarating but tiring drive, a big toy built for driving pleasure rather than practical commuting.